Santa Clara County Leather Association

SCCLA patch

When the South Bay Leather Uniform Group (SLUG) disbanded in the mid-1990s, the Santa Clara County Leather Association stepped in to take its place.

The SCCLA is a pansexual social and educational club, where folks can find connection, mentorship and community in leather. Renegades – San Jose’s only leather and bear club – became the group’s hub for weekend nights, Sunday brunches, movie nights and meetings of the San Jose Brotherhood.

Members stitched SCCLA’s triangle patch onto leather vests and jackets, which were often worn to annual formal dinners and leather weekends, where the dress code was, “Leather in uniforms are admired but not required.” These socials attracted people across Northern California, from San Francisco, Sonoma and Sacramento.

“We had fun, did good things, raised money for charity – I had a blast,” said Frank La, who first joined SCCLA in 2012. “I was becoming my leather self, and I was understanding what leather was about: not what’s worn on the outside but kind of inside in the heart. I loved it and took into it like a duck to water.”

The organization also hosted Mr. and Ms. Santa Clara Leather contests, whose title holders become ambassadors for the community, helping connect and educate folks in and outside of the LGBTQ community.

Frank – who earned the title of Mr. Santa Clara County Leather 2014 – said being an ambassador was one of the highlights of his life.

“I got to meet and spend some time with leaders in the leather community that, unfortunately, are no longer with us today,” Frank said. “I got the opportunity to sit down one-on-one to discuss history of where they’ve been, where they came from, where they are today and where the leather community is today. The title holding experience is just unbelievable.”

Growing out of the post WWII biker culture, leather promoted images of masculine independence that resonated with men and women who were dissatisfied with mainstream culture, especially dispelling the myth that all homosexual men were effeminate.

Gay leather became a practical way to symbolize open exploration of kink and S&M for some, while others adopted it as an entire lifestyle. In the 1960s, San Francisco became a hub for leather subculture in the gay community, which exploded internationally in the 1970s and 80s.

According to the Leather Archives, the SCCLA was founded in 1997 by Kevin Roche and Miranda von Stockhausen – who were Mr. and Ms. South Bay-San Jose Leather 1996, respectively. SCCLA represented the merger of the South Bay Leather and San Jose Leather groups.

Locally, Gabrielle Antolovich, the DeFrank Center’s president, earned the title of International Ms. Leather and International Ms. Bootblack in 1990, while Lance Moore is known as “Member #1” of the SCCLA. Moore is a Silicon Valley technical writer, Billy DeFrank Center board member and Mr. Santa Clara County Leather in 2000.

The SCCLA was spoiled; master craftsmen Tony and Dave Coronza founded Leather Masters in 1989 from their garage – in true Silicon Valley fashion.

“We would go into Mr. S (Leather in San Francisco) and some other stores and say, ‘Oh, I can make that,’ and ‘I can do that much cheaper,’” Carranza told the Dallas Voice in 2020. “I was a stockbroker at the time, and I didn’t want to wear a suit and tie to work. I said, ‘Hey, let’s go into business.’ And then we bought a sewing machine.”

Leather Masters emphasized providing correct, accessible information for people interested in the lifestyle, on top of providing the local LGBT and straight communities with high-quality leather products during the rise in popularity of the subculture’s style.

Their storefront on Park Avenue opened in 1991 in San Jose’s St Leo’s neighborhood, an emerging LGBT hub, where they not only sold custom leather jackets, vests, boots, chaps and harnesses, but also tailored garments specifically to customers’ bodies.

“To have that in San Jose – whatever you wanted – they had or would make for you, that was just priceless,” Frank La said. “It takes a true craftsmen to make those things.”

The store eventually closed in 2016, a few years after Tony Coronza passed away from complications of a stroke. Dave Coronza moved down to Dallas. The South Bay’s nearest leather shops remain in San Francisco, which can vary in price and quality.

The number of events held by the SCCLA started declining in 2019, as core members were busy with life, moving out of the Bay Area or even passing away. The SCCLA isn’t intending to shut down, but the Covid-19 pandemic really pumped the breaks on gatherings and events in 2020.

The Debate over Marriage Recognition

city hall recognition

Read how the City of San Jose voted 17 years ago to recognize marriages of all city employees—not just straight ones—that were certified by other jurisdictions so their spouse could receive full city benefits. 

The council chambers were packed on March 9, 2004, with 103 pro- and anti-marriage residents speaking to the proposal by Mayor Ron Gonzales and Councilmember Ken Yeager. The crowd was overwhelmingly opposed. The religious right had hoped it could change minds by saying the council was acting illegally because gay marriages were not allowed in Calif. They threatened a recall against the Gonzales and Yeager. 

Read an account of the nearly four-hour meeting, as well as hear testimony from Councilmember Yeager. In the end, love won, with an 8-1 vote.

Lighting the Way

By Shawn Maxey

From OutNow, March 2004

On March 9th the San Jose City Council chamber was filled to capacity, as people turned out en masse to debate Item 3.5. If passed, the — resolution, co-authored by Mayor Ron Gonzales and City Councilmember Ken Yeager, would grant equal benefits to city employees and their spouses who had same sex marriages certified in other jurisdictions. What followed hours of impassioned comments by more than a hundred local residents was a historic vote to determine if, for the first time, San Jose would legally recognize same sex marriages.

item 3.5 memorandum
Memorandum for Item 3.5

Many who spoke in favor of the resolution said it was simply a matter of equality.

“The broader issue of gay marriage and rights is one of the key civil rights issues of our time,” said local resident Joe Pampicano. “The question is how marriage is recognized by government. The question is equal protection under the law. Councilmember Yeager and honorable Mayor, by bringing this measure forward you make me proud to be from San Jose today.”

Mark Perry echoed that sentiment.

“Are we, as a nation, going to go forth and deny rights to some of our citizens based on the prejudices of another group of citizens? How can the just thing be immoral? How can teaching ok and intolerance be moral? How are the rights of male and female couples lessened by giving those same rights to a minority class? Just as when African-Americans and the women of this country fought for the rights to vote, we now fight for equality with the rest of America.”

Others, like Rod Stone, stressed the importance of separating the religious definition of marriage from the secular.

“Let the churches keep the word marriage, just as long as my government, which is supposed to practice separation of church and state, grants me the same rights as my fellow taxpayers. My partner is a veteran of the Gulf War. He performed eight years of duty in the Marine Corps and he left highly decorated, only to find out he would be treated as a second class citizen because of his love for me.”

Opponents of Item 3.5 hold signs saying "Keep Marriage Sacred."
Opponents of Item 3.5 in the City Council Chambers

Members of the religious community who spoke were largely divided on the issue, with many voicing their support for the resolution.

Said Mary Parker Eaves, “I came today because | feel it’s important for you to know that many persons of faith, many Christians, stand in support of gay and lesbian rights including marriage, My congregation is one of many that have made an explicit statement that we welcome all. Throughout the Bible, love is the primary value. Our cultural context changes, our scientific knowledge grows—love and compassion supersede it all.”

Amidst the philosophical and religious arguments were more personal accounts of the resolution’s importance.

“My name is Don Burris, a City employee here in San Jose. 100 years ago, in 1901, my grandparents were not allowed to marry because mixed race marriages were not legal. The Baptist minister at their Church married them anyway. My grandparents were together 50 years and raised 17 children. I applaud that minister who stood up for fairness and equality. He could see that love and marriage are things that should be celebrated by all in his congregation. The chief issue is not an issue of morality or Christian values. This is a struggle for civil rights, the right for my spouse and I to be treated equally and fairly, not separately and unequal. I applaud Mayor Gonzales and Councilmember Yeager, for they believe that I, the gay employee here in the city of San Jose, should be treated equally and fairly.”

In addition to the usual religious condemnations and moral arguments cited by those who are against LGBT equality, many who opposed the resolution accused the Mayor and Councilmember Yeager of acting with reckless disregard for
the law. In particular, they charged that Item 3.5 violated Proposition 22, which passed easily in 2000 with a resounding 61% of the vote. Upon the completion of the public comments portion of the hearing, Mayor Gonzales invited City Attorney Rick Doyle to speak to that issue.

“What is before you is a motion where you are not passing on or making a decision on the validity or legality of same
sex marriages. The courts will have the final say on that, and whatever this Council says or does doesn’t impact that court decision. However, as a municipal employer, as an employer of a number of employees, you have the ability to provide benefits to your employees and determine who gets benefits and under what circumstances. It is a question of policy. So you do have the right under California law to decide what benefits you want to provide your employees and under what condition. And as such, you can determine to recognize same-sex marriage certificates that are issued by other jurisdictions.”

ken ron outnow
Ken Yeager and Ron Gonzales recognized in the April 2004 edition of OutNow

As it came time to vote on Item 3.5, Councilmember Yeager framed the resolution in a much larger context.

“I know that the only way really to change the minds of people who don’t believe in what we’re doing is when a loved one comes our to you and is gay, and that makes it a personal issue for you, you will then understand the type of love that those people have and how very important it is to recognize that love. I believe we are on the right path, I believe that San Jose has a long history of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this resolution.”

And join him they did. In the end, Councilmember Chuck Reed, citing the illegality of same sex marriages performed in San Francisco, was the lone dissenting voice on the Council, With a few simple words and the final official vote, Councilmembers Yeager, Chavez, Gregory, LeZotte, Cortese, Chirco, Campos and Mayor Gonzales moved San Jose to the forefront of communities that are leading the fight for LGBT equality.

Mayor Gonzales: “I am going to have to ask for lights on this item. That motion passes with one no vote.”

To watch the full meeting, click here here.

Before Marriage, a Fight for Commitments

Amy Brinkman Katie Viall wedding ceremony

Same-sex couples who made lifelong commitments to each other never found the occasion printed in the pages of non-LGBTQ publications in the South Bay.

That changed on Nov. 7, 1992, when the San Jose Mercury News began publishing announcements of same-sex commitment ceremonies within the paper of record’s pages — reversing its policy of only featuring heterosexual couples.

Amy Brinkman and Kathleen Viall were the first same-sex couple to appear on the Saturday Lifestyle section’s wedding page, announcing their Sept. 12, 1992, commitment ceremony alongside a black-and-white portrait of the new brides in their wedding gowns.

Prior to dating in 1990, the two knew each other for years while working within the community; Amy worked for Santa Clara County in substance abuse services, while Kathleen ran a residential program for the AIDS Resources, Information & Services (ARIS) Foundation.

Their places of employment and address were left out of the announcement for safety and security reasons.

“It was a challenging thing for me to do, because I wasn’t out and I don’t know that I’m still out,” Amy said, referring to the fact that she is bisexual. “Katy always thought that they blurred our picture on purpose because they thought that it was a big step and didn’t want to shock people too much … but we were just happy that they changed their mind.”

According to Our Paper/Your Paper, an LGBTQ community newspaper in the South Bay, the change brought the Mercury News up to speed with similar-sized papers nationally, including the Oakland Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. By November 1992, the Washington Post was still considering the decision. The New York Times didn’t run a same-sex commitment announcement until 2002.

Amy and Kathleen’s openness about their relationship helped jumpstart conversations – even harsh, dehumanizing ones from her family – that slowly helped educate the American public, one story at a time.

These shifts started to impact laws around the country, including in Santa Clara County where officials were discussing providing domestic partner benefits.

“All these things seemed to fall into line together and push each other forward,” Amy said.

Months of pressure and protest

Reversing the heterosexual-only policy was a focused effort of several members of the local LGBT community and the South Bay Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). In addition to a letter writing and phone call campaign, organizers talked with supportive employees at the paper who could push for the change on the inside.

A Valentine’s Day protest at the Mercury News’ Ritter Park Drive office brought public attention to the policy at the start of 1992, which included GLAAD speakers, members from Queer Nation, previously denied same-sex couples and a vow renewal ceremony.

Mercury News’ then-publisher Larry Jinks defended the paper’s position, saying that “wedding announcements have always been for ceremonies sanctioned by the state.” That’s why Amy and Kathleen originally heard “no” after they first submitted their announcement on October 8, 1992.

Christine Schmidt, a South Bay GLAAD co-chair, said while Jinks’ explanation was plausible, it was wrong, citing other papers’ decisions to print same-sex announcements across the country.

“The Mercury News subscribes to an obsolete, prejudicial and unfair state law as the basis for their discrimination against lesbian and gay couples, when it is in their power to help move society in the direction of a more enlightened view of same-sex unions,” Christine said. “The Merc chooses to ignore the fact that the government won’t let us get legally married. Heterosexual couples can make that choice but right now gay and lesbian couples cannot … basically they are afraid to take a stand for fairness.”

Robert Greeley, co-chair of the South Bay GLAAD, said months of continued pressure and meetings with the publisher ultimately helped move the dial towards fairness in the Mercury News.

“To our great dismay, the more we pressed them, the more they dug in their heels,” Robert said at the time. “I was tickled to see that the Mercury News kept its promise and that our community was now fairly represented on its weddings page.”

Some readers, however, opposed the change and wrote letters to the editor expressing their disagreement: “The implication (of printing announcements) is that homosexual relationships are the equivalent both morally and legally of a marriage between a man and a woman. We believe you are wrong;” “Although you may consider yourselves enlightened, we consider your action both tasteful and an affront to our moral and religious beliefs.”

“They didn’t want anything to do with us”

merc commitment
A clipping of Amy and Kathleen’s commitment in the Nov. 7, 1992 issue of the San Jose Mercury News

That social and cultural backlash was why Robert and South Bay GLAAD sent the newlyweds a thank you and a bouquet of balloons for volunteering to publicly acknowledge their ceremony in the paper – a big step personally for Amy.

“It was scary for me. My family is very religious and ultra-right, and they rejected me because I was with Katy. They pretty much said they didn’t want anything to do with us,” Amy said. “Once I decided that I wanted to marry Katy, I was ready to it (publicly come out), because I felt like I joined that community.”

Amy said 175 coworkers, friends and community members attended their wedding at Christ the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in San Jose, a longtime supportive congregation, in a ceremony that combined traditional hymns, prayers and scripture with pagan traditions.

After the festivities, the brides headed to downtown San Jose for an evening at the Fairmont Hotel.

Kathleen’s family was very involved in the occasion, including her mother cooking a big Italian pasta meal for the reception afterwards.

Amy didn’t have the same reaction from her family. After inviting them to the ceremony, she received unsupportive, rejecting letters from her mother, brother, uncle and aunt. It wasn’t all encompassing; her sister and cousin attended the ceremony and another aunt sent a wedding present.

“I lost what I had with my parents as a result of this, but we had a really good group of friends and they were all in our ceremony,” Amy said. “They supported us 100%.”

Kathleen passed away in 2017 from complications of diabetes and heart disease. Amy lives in South San Jose, in a house Kathleen helped her purchase.

Aejaie Franciscus

Aejaie

Aejaie Franciscus’s story starts with a letter to Santa Claus at five years old, “I asked Santa, to make me a little girl for Christmas, as I was born a boy. To say the least, that present wasn’t under the tree, but it did set me on my life’s journey,” she recalled. 

She endured bullying throughout high school and, with the support of her family, finished her transition before heading off to college in 1982. She moved to San Jose in 2004 and met her husband, Tony. The couple married during the “Summer of Love” in 2008. 

“Other than the drag queens, people did not see much of this community. It was an underground community. It wasn’t until the last ten years that folks were seeing transgender folks in the LGBTQ community even,” Aejaie remembered, “I think it was about three years ago that the community saw representation at Pride events.”

Aejaie worked in the nonprofit arena for 20 years before being hired as the first transgender executive director of the Billy DeFrank Center. In an article from the Bay Area reporter, Aejaie mentioned that she was excited to start working, “This job offered me an opportunity to bring my personal life and professional life together. It’s like a coming out party.” This was the first job where she was able to speak about being transgender safely. She served as director from 2005 to 2008, during which time she spearheaded a HIV rapid testing program and worked with local schools to support kids dealing with homophobia. 

Aejaie now owns the Carla’s Social Club, a space for transgender people to find resources for transitioning and get support among other transgender people.

“It will be interesting to see what happens once we come out of the pandemic, because the work we do is so social and interactive. We had events and discussion groups activities at Carla’s Salon that are online, but are more effective in person,” she explained about the local impact of the global COVID-19 crisis. “Other than discussion groups online, and anything else we can move online, there’s only so much social activity you can do. It’s hard to help girls pick out clothes online, you need to see someone in person to help them put together outfits. You need to see someone in person to give them a hug for support.”

Carla’s

carlas logo

In 1985, it was unsafe to be trans in public. As a response, private salons were opened for people in the community to dress as their true selves. Carla’s Salon opened in 1985 by Carla Blair, a heterosexual woman. Those who attended would have a private place to explore their gender identity. It was a combination tearoom, beauty salon, boutique, and social center that became popular worldwide within the transgender community.

“In 1985, the word ‘transgender’ had not gotten into the lexicon yet. Honestly, we use that word loosely now, but it was the transsexual community at the time,” Aejaie Franciscus remembered about the time Carla’s Salon was founded. “This was happening in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, yet people didn’t understand the gay community or the AIDS epidemic. When you introduce the idea of someone wanting to change their sex, they really didn’t understand that.” 

In 2010, Aejaie Franciscus and her husband took over the Carla’s Salon from founder Carla Blair. Carla approached Aejaie one day and suggested the idea, and after some convincing Aejaie accepted. The name changed from Carla’s Salon to Carla’s Social Club.

Aejaie has noticed a change in clientele over the years. As people have become more comfortable with presenting in public, there’s less need for haircuts and make up, and more need for socialization and support. Carla’s is a great resource for finding doctors as well. People participating in the salon need help at every level of transition. 

“I have been on the fringes of cross-dressing for a number of years now,” said one reviewer about Carla’s on their website. “Recently I decided to go deeper. I decided to have a makeover to see what I would look like as a woman. Aejaie could not have been more patient, supportive as well as doing an excellent job making me up and describing what she was doing and why.  It is so comforting to know that I am not on this journey alone. Thank you so much Aejaie.”

Membership at Carla’s is around 200 people, including 70 active locker members and people who come from all over the world to attend events. “There are a lot of people you could talk to from over the years that would say Carla’s was a life saver; it was a great resource. Whether it be through me, or someone else, that that’s where they found their family and place,” Aejaie said.

As of 2020, Carla’s is still in operation, continuing to offer members locker rentals and a safe space for those to spend the day en femme. The services and memberships are listed on their website, Carlas.com.

The Commitment Campaign story

Reflections on the South Bay GLAAD Campaign for Same-Sex Commitment Ceremony Announcements in the San Jose Mercury News

By Robert Greeley

An interesting bit of South Bay LGBTQ history happened 29 years ago in February 1992 when a group of same-sex couples and their friends, led by South Bay GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), held a Valentine’s Day rally at the San Jose Mercury News to protest their policy of excluding same-sex commitment ceremony announcements from their weddings page.  What follows are my memories and reflections on that long ago day, set within the context of the full-on campaign for equality that surrounded it.

We at GLAAD couldn’t understand the paper’s insistence on strict legalism when it was totally unnecessary.  The times were changing; gay and lesbian couples were becoming more visible and demanding equal treatment in society.  The Mercury News was the paper of record in a generally progressive area.  We weren’t asking them to be the first paper to print our announcements because the Oakland Tribune had already done so.  Their argument was that same-sex marriage was not yet legal.  Our response was “so what?”

Although we weren’t surprised by the initial denial, we did encounter a lot more push-back than we expected when we persisted.  To our great dismay, the more we pressed them, the more they dug in their heels.  At that point we realized we’d have to launch a major offensive to get them to reverse their policy.

We quickly decided on an inside/outside strategy.  South Bay GLAAD Co-chair Christine Schmidt and key member Ralph Serpe worked the inside angle – connecting and coordinating with supportive employees at the paper, and dialoguing with and later formally meeting with management – while I headed up the external pressure operation – visibility actions, phone and letter-writing campaigns, rallying the community, encouraging same-sex couples to submit their commitment ceremony announcements, and so forth.

South Bay GLAAD members eagerly took up the challenge and threw themselves into all these activities.  For many in our group, while this meant moving outside our comfort zones, it also meant discovering we could raise our voices for a good cause, find the inner strength to be out and proud, and learn the power of activism.  For instance, some members were startled to discover they were bolder than they ever imagined when they confronted a Merc executive at a town hall meeting.

The culmination of our visibility campaign was a large, rowdy, full-throated protest on the doorstep of the Mercury News’s headquarters on Ridder Park Drive on Valentine’s Day 1992 – in the rain!

The bad weather did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, though, who waved colorful signs such as “Celebrate ALL Forms of Love” and “Gertrude and Alice… Why Not?” while fiercely chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia’s got to go!” and “2-4-6-8, why does the Merc discriminate?”  We were grateful that Queer Nation turned out a good number of their members that day in support, and all together we had probably 25 or more highly charged, amped-up protesters demanding equality – it was exhilarating!

A succession of speakers made our case with great passion and conviction, including couples who had previously been denied by the paper, and another couple publicly renewed their vows.  When they finished, our eyes were even damper than the rest of us.  I still remember vividly how raw our emotions were that day.

Following the rally at the Merc, a number of us went on to the County building to try to take out marriage licenses – knowing we’d be refused but determined to make the point loudly and publicly that state marriage law discriminated against us.  We were boisterous, had fun, and reveled in the camaraderie that comes from being in struggle together against oppression.

While unfortunately we didn’t succeed in drawing any TV coverage that day, we did garner a bit of reporting in the Merc itself, as I recall, and of course the LGBTQ press covered it too.  But the largest ripple effect that day was mostly unseen: During the protest one of our leaders received a discreet message that a group of Merc employees were 100% on our side and were “working from within” to press for change.  Here was immediate proof that we were having an impact and changing minds!

Empowered by our bold, rainy Valentine’s Day protest, we continued to beat the drum of equal representation for many months thereafter, keeping the pressure on the paper until they finally relented.  We were overjoyed when Amy Brinkman and Katy Viall’s announcement ran in November of that year – a sweet victory for them, for us in GLAAD, for our community, and for equality.

[On a personal note, my leadership of South Bay GLAAD and, within that, the campaign for equality in the Merc were the highpoints of my own work as an activist.  It was a heady time.]

Sal Accardi and the Watergarden

sal accardi featured

In the Spotlight: Sal Accardi

By John Follesdal, Esq.

From South Bay Times, February 1989

Sal Accardi is the President of the Board of the Watergarden bathhouse in San Jose. Throughout the AIDS crises, his position on keeping the Watergarden open has raised controversy in our community. South Bay Times met with Sal to discuss his views on AIDS, bathhouse closings, and some of the other political issues he has been involved with.

Q: You are probably best known in our community as the President of the Board of the Watergarden. How has AIDS affected your business?

A: We started off with 64 investors when the Watergarden opened up. When AIDS hit a lot of them panicked and it was very difficult to try to make good their investments so quickly. But we set up payment schedules, and I can proudly say that no one has lost a dime; everyone has made a profit In the Watergarden.

Now It’s a smaller corporation, and that works out better, with less problems that I have to deal with. On the other hand, my ideal was to have a community bathhouse that was actually owned by the community. We’ve got people from literally all walks of life that have been and are investors In the Watergarden – business people, religious people, laymen, old and young.

watergarden std
The Watergarden staff is presented with a certificate of recognition by the Santa Clara County Health Department for their efforts in STD prevention

I think the Watergarden has, through the employees, the managers, and the executives, developed an advertising program that has been tremendous, a whole promotional concept about how to deal with AIDS. We’ve spent $ 140,000 on safe sex advertising and programs.

I’m proud of the way we’ve dealt with AIDS as a community and the way the Watergarden has dealt with it… Some time ago, I came to a reckoning about the Watergarden and the AIDS crises, and it was clear to me that I was right on track. Something in my gut lead me in this direction, and I know we’re doing the right thing, there is no question in my mind.

AIDS is a tremendous crisis and setback for us… It’s been very difficult for me watching my friends die around me, but still I’m so proud that we’ve managed to survive the way we have. To me AIDS is eventually going to make a statement about life, not about death. It’s going to show how we are on a one-to-one basis and on a collective basis as a group.

People need love, they need compassion, and that’s not going to stop. There are many selfish, greedy people who think that they are going to stop us, or make us go back in the closet, but that’s not going to happen… When they find a cure, we’re going to be so much better for having gone through this, I’m convinced of it. We’ll have a perspective on ourselves that maybe we wouldn’t have had If we had not had the crises.

sal janet
San Jose Mayor Janet Gray Hayes (center) and Sal Accardi (right)

O: Many cities have closed their bathhouses, haven’t they?

A: No, not many. That’s an impression that the politicians like to give. Initially, in the beginning of the crises, people were very frustrated. All they saw was the rising statistics of AIDS. And some politicians, especially Diane Feinstein who became obsessed with the issue, got on a vendetta and wanted the baths closed. Actually very few cities have followed suit, thank God.

I not only felt it was unwise – and I don’t mean that from a vested interest – it was downright threatening to the community because it was counter-productive. It was forcing people to go into environments where they were going to continue to have sex, but in a less safe environment with no options for cleanliness or for condom use or for safe sex consciousness raising. I thought It was ideal for the baths to be instrumental in being part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. But politicians want to grandstand, especially when they know homosexuality Is going on. They want to use it somehow…

I think gay people are more than sexual objects, but some of them choose to have a more limited persona. But to me, I’m convinced that the bottom line is not horniness or the desire to get laid. The bottom line Is a need for companionship and an affirmation of ourselves as human beings.

However, many people have learned to use sex as a means of getting attention and establishing human rapport. They get caught up in the superficial to the extent that they lose sight of their real goal – to become at one with themselves and with each other. I think that is the bottom line of human sexuality, and if that is true, we should try to foster environments that encourage people to express themselves in a variety of ways as long as they are not laying a trip on somebody else. That’s the philosophy of where I’m coming from with the Watergarden.

O:You’ve also been politically active for a long time?

A: Ironically, the first time I went to college, at Foothill College in the sixties, I was openly gay but conservative. I wasn’t for the Vietnam war, (but rather) for either winning it or getting out. I realize now that there was no chance of winning it, that it was an ignoble war.

During the whole period of the flower children and the consciousness raising and the encounters and the gestalt, I got very actively involved in psychology and transactional analysis. I was very much into that. It was my rebellion, I guess, against the times when I considered myself conservative, I went from conservative fascist to hippie to being a left-wing entrepreneur.

O: You grew up in Santa Clara County. Were you born here also?

A: No. I was born In Brooklyn, New York. I came out to California in 1959, when I was thirteen years old, and I learned three things in that year: I learned how to ride the bicycle, I learned how to masturbate, and I learned that most people weren’t Italian or Jewish. I had lived in the middle of a Jewish neighborhood and all the people I knew were family people or neighbors that were Jewish. I never understood why we had a Protestant president. The whole world seemed to me to be Irish, Jewish, or Italian.

I got in touch with my homosexuality at a very personal level – I had to confront It -when I was seventeen. I grew quite attached to a fellow at Los Altos High School in my Junior year, and I had sort of a mini-breakdown because It was scary. I got all sick. But I got over that period and went to the other extreme. I became vociferous in my gayness. At the time it was not so much political but a psychological reinforcement for myself. The more I talked about it, the more comfortable I was. It was a way to stir people, and it worked.

I was very popular in high school, in the sense that even though I was openly gay, I was very successful as an actor. I was very popular even with the football team – we used to play poker games on Fridays and Saturdays at my house.

I came from a very loving supportive family, so It was easy for me to come out… My grandmother’s philosophy was – and she was the head of the household – she said “You were given a special kind of love, and therefore you need to be loved in a special kind of way.” And then she told my family that If anyone didn’t accept my “situation” they could get out, and that anybody that I loved would be loved and respected in our home.

It was as simple as that, and from then on my homosexuality, I feel, has been an advantage to me. I like to deal with the issue. It gives me a way to confront society and shake up society. But If I hadn’t been homosexual, I probably would have been rebelling on some other issue.

Q: You went to college here also, right?

A: Yes. I went to Foothill and San Jose State. While I was going to San Jose State I worked In a third-rate health club/bath house in Redwood City, and that’s when I got Interested In the baths environment. I was a Jack-of-all trades -It was a small operation -I was a receptionist, I was a laundry person, etc.

While l was going to San Jose State I also started coming out socially In the gay world. Up until then I had had a lover for five years. It was a very closed, quiet, paranoid, uptight relationship. He was unhappy and I was unhappy for the last two years of that relationship. We were too afraid to be ourselves, and I didn’t know anything else.

After we broke up I was forced to find my first bar, the Locker Room, and I paced for two hours up and down the street before I had the courage to walk In. As soon as I walked in the bartender said “Oh. This must be the first time you’re in a gay bar.He had spotted me!

After that I thought the best way to get involved, and a more comfortable way to get involved than by being a patron, was to become a cocktail waiter… I could be the person In control, I could limit it, and I could be less inhibited. I didn’t have to be rejected or repudiated as easily, and that helped me to come out…

During my time at San Jose State I also co-founded the gay student union there. That was in 74- ’75. There was a lesbian friend of mine in the drama department, and we wanted to make some waves. It was done almost for fun at first, but then we realized that there was a need there. We started having semesterly elections, and so on. A lot of people wanted to get Involved for social reasons; I was Into It for political reasons, to make a statement.

Q: What other organizations have you been involved with?

A: I kind of regret it now, but when I was a kid, when I was thirteen, I was captain of the Young Republicans in Los Altos. Later on I was actively involved with Richard Nixon’s first campaign against Kennedy. I regret that now, but I was politically active from early on.

I’ve found a need, certainly through the Watergarden, to remain vigilant as to the possibility that homophobic people would want to moralize or use the Watergarden as some kind of football. I see the Watergarden as a cause, not just a business. There was a need for a bathhouse when I opened It, and It was a political statement.

We have a lot of business dealings and we try to spend our money within the gay community to keep other businesses going. And that’s been a philosophy of mine. Sometimes I pay a little more for that, and sometimes I have no choice – we suffer discrimination. When the AIDS crises hit contractors wouldn’t work for us because they were afraid to get AIDS.

I’m temperamentally suited to politics in an activist way. I’m not a moderate type person. I’m very theatrical, and my theatricalism plus my political interest plus my homosexuality and my Italian background created who I am. But I’m more Italian than I am gay. I think of myself as very Italian. I’m very proud of my heritage, the language. the food, the culture, everything. And for the public record, I am not a member of any Mafia organization, even though I am three quarters Sicilian!

Q: How about social activities and hobbies?

A: I love food, as you can see. I love to eat, and every now and then I love to cook. It’s very relaxing to me, but because of my Job – I travel a lot – I eat a lot at restaurants. Predominantly Italian restaurants.

I’m not an outgoing sportsman/activist type person. I like to read a lot, magazines and books, mostly biographies, be they political biographies, historical biographies, or Hollywood-type biographies. I love movies, and I like television. To the disappointment of my lover I can look forward to a whole weekend of going home on Friday evening when I get out of work, taking off my clothes, and literally staying In bed for three days, reading, watching television, and from time to time petting my cat.

Occasionally I go out to the bars, but I don’t party as much as I used to. I also like the peace and tranquility of going to the Russian river or going fishing, and I like theatre a lot – I go to New York usually every year. I’m not into hiking or boating; I’m not into sports, but I do like looking at the guys who are. They seem to be better developed than me. I wonder if there is a correlation between that? I don’t know which came first, their bodies or their physical activity!

Rudy Galindo

rudy galindo profile

In 1996, San Jose was the site of one of the biggest upsets in American figure skating history when Rudy Galindo became the oldest male national champion of the modern era at age 26. Galindo was also the first openly gay figure skating champion, having come out before the competition began.

Galindo was raised in a trailer home in East San Jose with his sister Laura. He began figure skating at an early age and his career took off when he began skating pairs with Fremont native Kristi Yamaguchi. As a team Galindo and Yamaguchi won three U.S. national championships. However, after 1990 Yamaguchi retired from pairs competition to focus on individual skating.

rudy galindo autobiography 1

The AIDS epidemic had a major impact on Galindo’s personal and professional lives. His and Yamaguchi’s first coach, Jim Hulick, died of AIDS in 1989. In 1994, Galindo lost both his brother George and another coach Rick Inglesi to AIDS.

Despite those hardships, Galindo won the men’s singles champion title in front of a hometown crowd as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held at the San Jose Arena on January 20th, 1996. In the competition, he was the only male competitor to land combination triple jumps. After his performance Rudy chanted the names Jess, George, Jim, and Rick, who had all helped him to achieve the victory.

His championship defied the norms of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Galindo later said he feared being an out skater might lower his score because of some judge’s discomfort with his identity.

In 1997, he released his autobiography Icebreaker. Proceeds from the book were donated toward funding the expansion of the San Jose Public Library’s Biblioteca Latinoamericana.

In 2000, Galindo announced he was HIV positive.

Today, he coaches figure skating at Sharks Ice in San Jose. His students include Kristi Yamaguchi’s daughter.

He was inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 and the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2013. He has set the path for numerous LGBT and HIV-positive athletes to be themselves.

1985: Fatal Police Shooting of Melvin Truss Sparked Public Outcry

The fatal police shooting of Black teen Melvin Truss sparked public outcry as many called into question the conduct of the officer responsible for his death and the handling of the case by the grand jury, law enforcement and city officials.

SJPD’s version of events

On May 4, 1985, San Jose police officer Paul Ewing was on duty in the Street Crimes Unit, wearing civilian clothes and driving an unmarked police car. Around 6:45 pm, Ewing claimed he saw Melvin Truss dressed in women’s clothes and jewelry, soliciting drivers at Second and San Carlos streets, according to a city memo authored by San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara.

Truss approached Ewing’s car and asked if he was looking for a date, the memo continued. Ewing drove Truss first to a Highway 280 overpass, then to San Jose Bible College, and finally to Olinder School.

According to McNamara’s memo, Truss then began to act agitated and took a steak knife out of a rolled-up windbreaker on his lap, demanding Ewing’s money. Ewing said he distracted Truss and drew his .357 magnum service revolver, pointing it at Truss in hopes that he would retreat. As Truss came toward him, Ewing fired five rounds and jumped out of the car without any injuries.

Truss was transported to San Jose Hospital, where he died at 9:05 pm the same night, according to records from the Human Relations Commission of the County of Santa Clara. He was 17.

(It should be noted that Truss weighed 115 pounds while Ewing was 6’1″ and weighed 200 pounds.)

Public uproar followed as community members and Truss’s family disputed police accounts. While a police spokesman labelled Truss a “transvestite,” Our Paper reported that advocates denounced police for waging a slander campaign against Truss.

A community fights back

Family and friends knew Truss as a shy but polite kid, a fan of Michael Jackson, Metro reported. “Melvin was the kind of person anyone could read like a book. By that I mean he did not carry any false pretenses” said Sharon Youngblood in a statement to Santa Clara County’s Human Relations Commission. Youngblood, a business instructor at James Lick High School who knew Truss for over two years, also noted: “You could look into his eyes and read his ‘soul.’”

Constance Carpenter, a lawyer with the Attorneys Committee on Police Practices, pointed out to the Human Relations Commission that police attempted to find the rest of Truss’s set of steak knives but found no matches.

In addition, in an attempt to try to identify him as an armed robbery suspect, the police pulled 380 reports of armed robberies, grand thefts, and aggravated assaults in the city, Carpenter detailed: 66 cases were investigated further and none of the victims identified Truss as the suspect, according to Carpenter’s statement to the commission.

A grand jury voted in May 1985 not to indict Ewing for fatally shooting Truss. Ewing returned to regular duty.

After the grand jury result, Laura White, an aunt who helped raise Truss, told the Mercury News: “If this is allowed to stand, the people in San Jose and this society had better watch out. Because every month, these trigger-happy police officers who have taken the oath to preserve and protect are going to be dropping people in the street right and left.”

Despite calls for an independent citizens committee to investigate the shooting, in June 1985 the San Jose City Council voted against the proposal after nearly two hours of testimony from attorneys, friends of Truss, and several police officers. According to the Mercury News, one of Truss’ classmates testified that Truss would never hurt anyone, “especially someone older than him and a lot bigger than him.”

During the council meeting, police in full uniform lined the walls of city hall, opposing the proposed independent investigation, according to Metro reports. White was especially angered by Assistant Police Chief Stan Horton, who said Truss “died because of his lifestyle.”

The legacy of Truss’s death

“No one will ever know what really happened at the time of the shooting,” stated Ken Yeager, a spokesperson for BAYMEC, said at the time “But it isn’t difficult to imagine the circumstances that created the situation in the first place, nor the attitudes of the policeman involved. This is what we find very frightening.”

“Our focus now is to call attention to the fact that police in San Jose seem to believe anyone who might be Lesbian or Gay is a criminal or in the process of committing a crime, notably solicitation or prostitution,” said Wiggsy Sivertsen, BAYMEC’s vice-president. “The ramifications of this are enormous.”

Upon request from BAYMEC, the San Jose City Council approved a program in June 1985 through which San Jose police officers would receive training on gay and lesbian lifestyle. The move was met by opposition from the police, as reported in the Mercury News. The training was done by Sivertsen,

Responding to community concerns, the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission held a public hearing in August 1985. Youngblood, an advisor for James Lick’s Black Student Union, recalled the time when Truss participated in the group’s fall fashion show.

“He was scared to death on that stage and it was written all over his face, but he knew it was for a worthwhile cause and it was exciting for him too,” Youngblood told the commission. “Melvin was not capable of violence.”

In 1989, a federal jury cleared officer Paul Ewing of violating Truss’ civil rights in a civil suit brought by Truss’s mother.

Politics & Activism